Seoul aims to modernize its arsenal and increase military influence in Northeast Asia


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Lucas Leiroz, research fellow in international law at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro…

Amid the modern arms race between, South Korea plans to increase its military power and is investing a large part of the money from its public coffers in a modernization of its arsenal. Seoul recently announced its plan to start building its own aircraft carrier in 2021, which worries North Korea and China. South Korea thus shows its intention to join the select group of advanced naval powers.

According to experts, Korea is improving its armed forces because its relations with the United States are entering a new phase. Since the Korean War, Seoul has remained subdued by the American military umbrella, which means that the Asian country has obeyed the decisions taken by Washington. This scenario is starting to change. The United States and Korea remain allies, but Washington is transferring to Seoul the autonomy to lead its own troops in an eventual combat scenario – which, given the conditions of the Korean peninsula, may occur at any time.

Several circumstances favor the transfer of command to the Korean forces. The United States intends to reorganize its military competences around the world. The desire of the Trump administration to retract American power in some regions has already been expressed previously, in places like Syria and Afghanistan, although this project conflicts with the interests of the American Deep State. Still, in the current context, such a project becomes a real necessity for the United States, which gradually loses its military influence and its hegemonic power.

However, South Korea is certainly gaining an opportunity to grow geopolitically. The country will be forced to face the challenges of a world in constant conflict and, for that, it will use the modernization of its armed forces to increase its relevance in the international scenario. In addition to the project to build an aircraft carrier, Seoul shows interest in producing a new fleet of submarines between 2021 and 2025. It is speculated that these submarines will be nuclear, which would demonstrate the Korean interest in not restricting its forces in the vicinity of their territory, but in expanding its regional influence, disputing a space between the great powers.

It is important to emphasize that currently South Korea and the United States are holding joint military exercises, which have been interpreted as aggressive maneuvers by Pyongyang, which responded by carrying out several tests, having launched five missiles since the end of July. Trump and Kim Jong-un, who have met on three occasions, have long tried to maintain a stable diplomatic dialogue, but in practice little has changed in Washington’s policies, which has contributed to a recent rise of the tensions.

A thorough analysis of the current moment would conclude that South Korea has the opportunity to reverse the result of decades of political and ideological rivalry and that it must take advantage of the current circumstance to resume peace ties with the North. Regional rivalry between the Koreas was fostered in a context of geopolitical bipolarity during the Cold War, in a reality that no longer prevails in international society, which is rapidly moving towards multipolarity.

Although Korea is investing heavily in modernizing its arsenal, the results are unlikely to be truly fruitful, as the country has far less military power than neighboring countries such as China and Japan, as well as having no nuclear weapons – unlike North Korea, which already has them. The time required for a complete modernization of Korean forces would also be sufficient for these countries to further modernize their troops, maintaining Korean inferiority in the region.

Therefore, the idea of ​​trying to become a military power does not seem to be the most suitable for Seoul. Perhaps, instead of preparing for war, South Korea should try to live in peace. Without subordination to Washington’s command, the country should invest in greater diplomatic dialogue with the North and start a project of political, economic and military integration. Undoubtedly, both Koreas have much more to gain integrated than at war.

On the other hand, if Korea does not invest in peace with the North and continues with militarization plans, advancing its naval power in Northeast Asia, not only are the chances of a war in the region high, but Korean military independence itself is again strongly threatened. If Seoul adopts an aggressive stance in Asia, it must be prepared for a response not only from Pyongyang but also from Beijing, which would be a conflict in which South Korea would not be able to fight alone and would be forced to resort to the US, resubmitting its troops to the yoke of Washington.

There is no path to peace on the Korean peninsula outside of a project to integrate the Koreas, far from the influence of foreign powers interested in the conflict. And Seoul has never been close to getting on this path.

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The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The Duran.

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